News : 311 Call Center Bridges Gap Between City and Residents
June 19, 2014 -- Shelley Rosier Weaver is sitting in a darkened room handling a call from a man who is worried that the dead trees next door are going to fall on his house.
On one screen she has a database program that is generating questions based on the caller's responses. "Tell me, is the tree dead or are their dead limbs hanging?" she asks. After a pause she asks, "Do you think the tree or branches are in imminent danger of falling?"
Weaver is a customer service assistant with the city's 311 Call Center, which handles non-emergency requests from residents throughout the city. Calls run the gamut from routine missed trash pick-up calls to the bizarre, such as the time a woman called to report Bigfoot tracks in the snow in her back yard.
At just more than a year old, already the 311 Call Center has fielded more than 75,000 phone calls, plus 6,380 emails that resulted in almost 25,000 service calls in the city.
"We're the front line in the city," said center manager D.J. Russell. "It's our job to provide people all of the information they need."
The center went live in March 2013 and has proven popular with residents who are relieved "they don't have to call six numbers and try to figure out who to call," she said.
Beginning with a core of Public Works requests, the center has been gradually adding connections to other departments, including Engineering and Code Compliance. Its system contains more than 1,507 frequently asked questions from different city departments, along with their answers.
And it's expanding. Later this year, the city Assessor Office will be hooked into 311. Animal Control is expected to come online by the end of the year, Russell said. But center staff answer all kinds of general questions, such as where to get a marriage license or where to find more information about personal property taxes.
"Call us, we'll get you to the right place," she said.
The ways people can interact with the center are also expanding. Currently people can call, send email and make some requests online. In the works are live online chat and a mobile app. Russell is also hoping to add weekend hours beyond the 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. hours currently staffed, she said.
As for the calls, "It's never boring," she said. "You never know what someone is going to call about."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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